When producer Debra Martin Chase was looking for a location for the third film in Disney's Cheetah Girls franchise, she immediately thought of India.
The Cheetah Girls first appeared in 2003 in a Disney Channel TV film about a four-member teen girl group making their way in Manhattan. After it became a smash hit and the soundtrack sold more than 2 million copies, it spawned a 2006 sequel which took the girls to Barcelona.
'The concept is taking these American girls around the world and we wanted to raise the bar in the third movie,' explains Chase. 'I had been to India in 2004 on vacation and felt it was a country coming into its own, which also had this rich Bollywood tradition that we could tap into. Disney seized on the idea because they had just launched Disney Channel India, so it worked both creatively and from a business standpoint.'
Chase - a veteran producer whose credits also include The Princess Diaries and Sisterhood Of The Travelling Pants films - immediately secured the services of an Indian production outfit with Feroze Alameer and his Calcutta-based Khussro Films. 'I wanted to shoot in Rajasthan because that's the iconic India and we imagined we would shoot a lot in Mumbai,' she explains. 'So a year ago the writer of the project, Nisha Ganatra, and Feroze and I travelled to Mumbai, Udaipur and Jaipur to scout.'
Chase realised quickly that it would be impossible to shoot on the hectic streets of Mumbai ('Indians don't even shoot on the streets of Mumbai,' she says) and settled for Udaipur as the principal location. 'The city is small and manageable,' she says, 'and the Maharajah wanted us to come and gave us full access to the City Palace.'
The production spent January in Mumbai on dance rehearsals, casting and preparation before moving to Udaipur for the entire 25-day shoot which included five days in the City Palace for the movie's musical finale. Heads of department came from overseas but all worked closely with local counterparts. For example, legendary US choreographer Fatima Robinson (Dreamgirls) teamed with Bollywood dance expert Ruj Vaidya on the musical numbers. 'All the Americans arrived with the idea of embracing the culture,' says Chase, who added that all the non-Indians on the crew got sick at some point. 'We just had doctors on hand.'
Chase says that since The Cheetah Girls: One World was a TV production, the budget was locked in but she had no over-runs or problems and is now pursuing further inroads into India.
'I've been approached by several major production companies in India who want to expand their reach,' she says. 'They want to be able to use their infrastructure to create English-language product that appeals to both East and West. I have already submitted one idea. Hopefully I'm going to be able to do something which works for both audiences.'